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Imre A. Bertalan – Festival Dedication

August 3, 2018

He arrived in Toledo on a 1969 Honda 450 motorcycle, wearing an Army greatcoat, with the largest curly red head of hair any of us ever saw. Imre A. Bertalan, the son, grandson and great-grandson of Hungarian Reformed ministers, came to Toledo not to serve a church, but to work as a community organizer in the Birmingham Neighborhood and eventually as the Lead Organizer for ETCO (East Toledo Community Organization).

A graduate of Rutgers University and with a Divinity degree from Princeton, Imre brought with him a deep sense of community, love of his Hungarian culture, faith, and a determination to make life better for everyone he worked with.

During the Blizzard of 1978,the sparks started flying between Baba Ujvagi & Imre. As their love grew, so did Imre’s call to ministry. In 1979, he became the pastor of Calvin United Church of Christ. In 1980, Baba and Imre were married at Calvin United; the largest wedding and reception which has taken place in our community in quite a while, and the likes of which have not been seen since. Their love for each other and for their Hungarian culture and traditions were the highlight of the celebration.

The family grew quickly with Sara, Magdi, Juli and Gitti, and finally Imi coming into the world, followed more recently by grandchildren Vince, Alma, Janos, Jaxson, Mateo and Ima.

Not only did Imre help to organize and empower the people of the Birmingham neighborhood, bring the word of God to his parishioners, reach out and work on ecumenical concerns in Toledo, emerge as a national leader in the Hungarian American Federation, but he also became one of the key leaders in the continuing preservation and promotion of the Birmingham Ethnic Festival. He served as co-chair for several years with Father Hernady, and then many years as Chair.

To his last days, he worked to help fund and strengthen the festival, as a testament to the world of the soul and spirit of the multi-ethnic Birmingham community.

In 1986, he received a call to serve the American Hungarian Reformed Church in Allen Park, Michigan. But even during those years of service his and his family’s heart were in Toledo and their beloved Birmingham neighborhood. And, in 1992, they returned to Toledo so he could again serve as pastor of Calvin United Church of Christ, with a detour shortly after as the family spent a year in Sarospatak, Hungary.

In 1999, he accepted the responsibility to become the Executive Director of the historic Bethlen Communities in Ligonier, Pennsylvania. But Imre continued his involvement in the Birmingham Festival, guiding the committee to extend the Festival to a full weekend of celebration.

Many times he sat on the back porch on Consaul Street with Baba, watching their grandchildren at play in the backyard and talk longingly of returning here, finally and permanently, to again take up the mantle of organizing in the neighborhood to preserve our neighborhood and culture.

Imre A. Bertalan passed away on August 29, 2017. The 2017 Festival was probably the only one that he missed in all his years of being a member of our community.

While leaving a great emptiness in our hearts, he also left us with a legacy of love of family and community, faith in God and the future, and the determination that, as he would say to his dear Baba… “everything will be alright, my love”… Minden jó lesz szívem.


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